Augmented reality (AR) entails enhancing the real physical world digitally with visual or auditory elements or other sensory stimuli. Companies involved in mobile computing and business applications show particular interest in AR. Retailers and other companies can use augmented reality to promote products or services, launch marketing campaigns, and collect unique user data. Unlike virtual reality, which creates its own cyber environment, augmented reality superimposes new sensory elements on the existing world.
AR is expected to affect companies across all industries and other types of organizations, from universities to social enterprises—changing how enterprises and organizations serve customers, train employees, design and create products, and manage their value chains.
AR could also be used to derive insights that can be applied to real-world applications. AR-harvested big data can provide insight into consumer spending habits and inform companies' decision making, among other functions. AR's potential range of applications is vast and diverse. There is evidence that consumers are beginning to derive tangible benefits from this functionality and expect it as part of their purchasing process.
Apple CEO Tim Cook believes AR has the potential to influence all aspects of technology. He stated:
Augmented Reality is larger than Virtual Reality because this gives the capability for (...) us to sit and be very present talking to each other, but also have other things visually for (...) us to see. It will be the next revolution, as was the smartphone during its time.
Global Market Insights estimated the value of the AR Market to exceed $50B by 2024.
The term "augmented reality" is believed to have been coined by Thomas Caudell in 1990, which he used in reference to the technology of an electronic display of aircraft that blended the real environment with virtual graphics. In 1992, American inventor Louis Rosenberg developed the Virtual Fixtures AR system for the US Air Force. AR releases followed in the consumer market, most notably the ARQuake game in 2000 and the design tool ARToolkit in 2009.
By the 2010s, AR was evolving beyond its prototypical conception, and AR software was becoming increasingly complex, popular, and affordable. An example from the time was the release of Microsoft’s HoloLens in 2015.
Augmented reality can be applied in many areas, including image enhancements in mobile entertainment and communication apps, in apps that help users find their car in parking lots, and in a variety of shopping apps that let users test furniture placement or try on clothing. A well-known example of an AR mobile app is Pokemon Go, in which players locate and capture Pokemon characters that appear in the real world. This game was released in 2016 and gained popularity rapidly.
A number of companies in the retail sector have developed AR solutions to enhance the shopping process. Through the integration of augmented reality into catalog apps, stores enable consumers to visualize their products in specific environments. One particular example of this is IKEA Place, an AR app provided by IKEA that lets a customer see how a piece of furniture will look and fit in their space.
According to a 2019 report by Mobile Marketer:
- 1% of retailers said they are using AR
- 61% of consumers said they prefer retailers that provide AR experiences
- 71% of shoppers said they would shop more often if they could use AR
- Using AR technology in eCommerce can increase conversion rates by 40%
The impact of AR technology could also extend to the healthcare sector. Apps that enable users to see 3-D images of various body systems through cameras on mobile devices as they are aimed at target images is a potentiality that could serve as a learning tool for medical professionals throughout their training.
Another area where AR could find purpose is wearable devices. In the case of smartphones and tablets in which AR is an auxiliary function enabled by the devices' photographic lens of limited capability, dedicated AR devices such as smart eyewear may be able to provide more in-depth features. Other application examples include the following:
- Navigation systems can use augmented reality to superimpose a route over the live view of the road.
- During football games, broadcasters can use AR to draw lines on the field to illustrate and analyze plays.
- Military fighter pilots can see an AR projection of their altitude, speed, and other data on their helmet visor.
- Neurosurgeons can use an AR projection of a 3-D brain to aid them in surgeries.
- At historical sites like Pompeii in Italy, AR can project views of reconstructed ancient structures, objects, and monuments over ruins.
- Ground crew at Changi Airport in Singapore wear AR glasses to see information about cargo containers, which makes loading more time-efficient.
The United States Army aims to improve soldiers' situational awareness with AR technology. This technology, called Tactical Augmented Reality (TAR), is an eyepiece that helps soldiers precisely locate their positions as well as the locations of enemies and allies. In addition, TAR includes the functions provided by night-vision goggles and handheld GPS systems, eliminating the necessity for carrying extra equipment.
The eyepiece is connected wirelessly to a tablet that soldiers wear on their waists and to a thermal site mounted on their rifles or carbines. When a soldier points their weapon at a target, the target is highlighted and information about them, such as the distance between them and another soldier, can be seen on the eyepiece's UI.
In 2015, Disney Research developed technology that makes coloring book characters 3-D as they are being colored.
In 2017, L’Oréal partnered with Perfect Corp. to introduce consumers to a new way of discovering, testing, and purchasing beauty products by making L’Oréal's makeup collections available for remote digital testing on Perfect Corp's YouCam Makeup app. Studies have shown that the ability to test products is important to the beauty shopper. As part of the partnership's strategy, iPads were placed at counters in beauty stores to allow customers to try products at retail outlets.
In 2016, Keiichi Matsuda created a short film that imagines how immersive technologies such as VR and AR could look from the users' point of view in the future.
AR heads-up displays for automobiles lay navigational images directly over what the driver sees through the windshield, reducing mental effort, preventing distraction, and minimizing driver error. As a result, the driver can focus exclusively on the road and traffic.
Newport News Shipbuilding, which designs and builds US Navy aircraft carriers, uses AR near the end of its manufacturing process to inspect a ship, marking steel construction structures that are not part of the finished carrier for removal. An alternative would be for engineers to visually compare the ship with 2-D blueprints, which is a longer process.
AR enables the engineers to see the final design superimposed on the ship, which reduces inspection time from 36 hours to 90 minutes, achieving an inspection time reduction of 96%. Time savings of 25% or more are typical for manufacturing tasks using AR.
AccuVein is a medical device company that uses AR technology to convert the heat signature of a patient’s veins into an image that is superimposed on the skin, making the veins easier for clinicians to locate and significantly improving the success rate of blood draws and other vascular procedures. AR more than triples the likelihood of a successful needle insertion on the first attempt.
Bosch Rexroth, a global provider of power units and controls employed in manufacturing, uses an AR-enhanced visualization to demonstrate the design and capabilities of its smart, connected CytroPac hydraulic power unit. The AR application allows customers to see 3-D representations of the unit’s internal pump and cooling options in multiple configurations and how subsystems are assembled.
At Boeing, AR training has had a significant impact on the productivity and quality of complex aircraft manufacturing procedures. In one Boeing study, AR was used to guide trainees through the fifty steps required to assemble an aircraft wing section involving thirty parts. With the aid of AR, trainees completed the work in 35% less time than trainees who relied on traditional 2-D drawings and documentation. In addition, the number of trainees with little or no experience who could perform the operation correctly the first time increased by 90%.
According to Grand View Research, the global AR market size was valued at USD$17.67 billion in 2020 and was expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 43.8% from 2021 to 2028.
Grand View Research anticipated the software component segment to exhibit the highest CAGR from 2021 to 2028 within the global AR market. The adoption of AR technology has been gaining traction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as individuals were driven toward home convenience and entertainment technologies.
The proliferation of smartphones, the growing popularity of AR applications such as AcrossAir, Google Sky Map, Layar, and Lookator, as well as the adoption of enterprise software are also expected to contribute to the growth of the software segment.